Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

I vaguely remember a review of this - probably Roger Ebert's - that made this sound like a trainwreck. But at least it's only an 80-minute train wreck. Charlie Sheen plays the title character, a advertising designer who goes into a tailspin when his girlfriend breaks up with him. He spends some time in the hospital, bemoaning the loss of her and trying to figure out why she took it so personally he kept all those nude pictures of his past girlfriends. He's aided in his quest for a clue by his comedian friend Kirby, his accountant Saul (played by Bill Murray), and occasionally his sister, played by Patricia Arquette.

I'm not sure what point the film is trying to make. To an extent, it seems like it's trying to explore Charles, Kirby, and Saul's ugly attitudes towards women. The whole thing where they only want "hot" women, but believe women are trying to trap them and conspire against them. It explores this through a series of hallucinations, or scenes that are meant to be Charles' fantasies, something like that. At the end, it seems as though Charles recognizes he had an unrealistic idea of what their relationship was going to be, but he's also talking about how he doesn't want to reach the point where he sees her when she's old and he'll feel nothing. So his version of acknowledging it doesn't seem to addressing it so much as shrugging and saying, "That's who I am. Oh well."

Saul may have learned something, near the end, but maybe not. Maybe all he figured out was a realistic assessment of himself, and the fact he's damn lucky he found a woman willing to be with him and raise kids with him, and he should try not to lose that by blaming her for aging. It's not like Bill Murray's ever been some handsome dude, and he looks like a 10 pound sack of crap that got dragged down a gravel road 20 miles in this movie.

There's a scene at the end, during a company Christmas party, where someone trots out what is supposed to be marionette of Charles, and you can see a look on at least three different actors' faces of "What the hell am I doing in this movie?" Bill Murray's one, Aubrey Plaza's another, although Parks and Recreation has led me to believe that's her default expression.

It seems like a movie that's not as clever as it thinks it is.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Splash page #27

"Maybe Come Back Later, Angel" in Angel and the Ape (vol. 2) #2, by Phil Foglio (writer/penciler), Keith Wilson (inker), Carl Gafford (colorist), John Workman (letterer)

A four-issue miniseries that seems like it's trying to fit these two characters into the larger DCU. So Sam, as a telepathic ape, is connected to Gorilla City, and that place's most famous character, a certain Flash villain. Angel is the half-sister of Dumb Bunny from the Inferior Five, so they also show up. The JLI almost showed up, but they let Guy Gardner answer the phone and that took care of that.

I've never read any of the original Angel and the Ape from the '60s (I look at the prices sometimes on the site I buy comics from, and they're just a bit pricey for me), so I don't know how well this lines up with those. Foglio keeps the tone of the thing shifting. Sometimes he's using misunderstandings to create relationship melodrama, but then Grodd will attack Bunny with her worst fears to leave her sobbing and terrified. There's a cosmic MacGuffin near the end, that didn't feel like it quite fit, but I'm not sure how this group was going to handle Grodd otherwise.

Foglio's faces get a little strange sometimes, but they're very expressive, which works for the humor aspect. He draws the few brief fight scenes well, usually one-on-one fights. The one big fight scene, he opts to draw a few panels hinting at what's going on while focusing on other developments.

Friday, July 27, 2018

October Brings a Scary Number of Books I'm Not Interested In.

I thought the October solicitations would be out last week, but instead that was all about Comic-Con, and much more distant, vague declarations about things we're supposed to be excited about. To be fair, I am kind of excited about that M. Night Shaymalan movie, Glass, so that's something. I probably need to watch Split at some point, though.

Anyway, comics being released in October! Marvel is throwing the damn kitchen sink at us. Or maybe just the garbage disposal. A whole series of one-shots about X-Men villains, a bunch of What-Ifs, more mini-series tie-ins to Infinity Wars, Spider-Geddon tie-in mini-series. I might try that Spider-Girls one, Mayday Parker's going to be in it. Take what I can get. And the What-Ifs, while not interesting to me, seem like they're trying to break out of that mold of, "What If this recent Marvel event went differently?" they'd been stuck in the last 10 years. Took me five minutes to scroll past all on CBR's page just to reach the monthly books, of which there still aren't many that catch my eye. Multiple Man is wrapping up, Ms. Marvel is still dealing with Shocker, Squirrel Girl might be dead. Gang Hyuk Lim did the cover for Domino, and I think it's worse than Greg Land's. I think he's trying to ape Land's style, and that was not a good plan.

It's still a better scene than DC, where there continues to be nothing that catches my eye. I did notice that it looks as though there's going to be an event spanning multiple books spinning out of stuff happening in Aquaman, which probably hasn't happened in quite some time. I was confused, then I remembered the movie coming out this fall, I think, and it fell into place. Like Marvel doing a Black Panther vs. Deadpool mini-series to try and capitalize on two big successful movies starring their properties. Hey, at least DC is getting theirs out in time with the movie, rather than 6 months after the fact!

Outside those two publishers, not too much that's new that caught my eye. Giant Days is still going, Stellar, Coda, The Seeds. There's a book from Image, Infinite Dark, it sounded kind of cool. A station housing the last of humanity as it waits and hopes for another universe to be born. It'll probably turn into just another murder mystery, but there's always the possibility it could do something more.

There are a few things from some other the smaller publishers that might be worth looking into. A mini-series called Transdimensional. It'll be on its second issue by October. I can't tell if each issue is its own thing with some overarching theme, or if there's characters or a MacGuffin that ties things together. Or Ogre, about a creature living in a dungeon with the ghost of a corpse it's chained to. Might be worth looking into. It isn't as though my buying list is overloaded at the moment.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Good, Evil, I'm The Guy Kicking Chickens

My insistent friend went to the trouble sending me a copy of Fable 2 to get me to play it, so here we are. I gave up on the original Fable early on, and Fable 3 was the first game I completed on my Xbox 360, to a mixed response (of the three I got when I bought the console, it was much better than Rage and much worse than The Saboteur).

In Fable 2, you play as one of two orphaned siblings who scrape together enough gold to buy an allegedly magical music box. Your sibling wishes the two of you could live in the huge castle in town, and the next day, you are invited in. Turns out Lord Lucien is a kooky weirdo, and convinced one or both of you will endanger his plans, he shoots you. Your sibling dies, you gets blasted out the window and survive the fall thanks to a blind sage. Fast forward several years, and it's time for your character to head out and bring Lord Lucien down. Hijinks and murders - lots of murders - ensue.

Something I appreciated initially was you aren't one of the 3 Heroes Lucien was worried about, but the Fourth who brings them together. It's still basically a Chosen One thing, but presented as just off from that enough to interest me. I like narratives where the person who saves the day isn't some special person, just a schmo who happens to be there and get involved. In practice, the game still comes down to me doing everything, as usual. Here I thought having three other Heroes would lighten the load.

Since it's a Fable game, you get the option to resolve some quests in different ways. Do you help a grief-stricken ghost break the heart of the lover who spurned him or no, stuff like that. At the beginning, you can earn gold for the music box by either retrieving warrants for a peace officer, or hand them over to one of the criminals. When you come back later in your life, you get to see how your choice affected things. Like with Fable 3, I gave up aiming for a particular approach with regards to good or evil, and just took things as they came. Selfish, selfless, cruel, helpful, it depended on the circumstances and my mood.

So I chatted with the Temple of Shadows, earning the option of getting money by sacrificing others, though I never did that. I remembered in Fable 3 I planned to turn the tables on them at the last minute, and then I waited too long and they'd vanished. I didn't feel like repeating that mistake. This time, when they attacked the Temple of Light, I went against them and slaughtered the lot of them. I never took the Civilian Displacement (read, "sell people into slavery") jobs, but I was fine Bounty Hunting or taking Assassination jobs occasionally. By the time I stopped playing, I was considered very Good, but also very Corrupt. I'd help others, but also enjoy myself.

Watching the locals react, and how that changed over the game could be amusing. At a certain point they'd run up to me and cheer or flirt, or ask for autographs. Which then got tedious because I couldn't get a moment's peace. At some point I guess I fired my rifle or let off a burst of magic too often in public, and they all became terrified of me. I'd show up, and everyone would run away screaming. Would have been fine if all the yelling didn't get so annoying.

There's a whole stretch in the middle where rescuing one of the other Heroes requires your character spending 10 years as a guard in the mystical tower Lucien is using slave labor to rebuild. The game keeps presenting you with options to obey orders, or defy. If you defy, you lose experience points which means you might not be able to upgrade enough later to win, possibly. At least, that's the fear the game tries to put in you. For me, it almost made it too easy to defy (that and the fact I'm not the one actually being shocked by an obedience collar). The game thinks I have that little confidence in my ability to win?

I think my character's dog died while I was in the Spire, though. The one that greets me when we return has an entirely different color coat than the one that accompanied me up to then. It wasn't a puppy when my character and his sister took it in, and that was several years before my decade in the Spire began. Shadow probably died and the others worried my mind would snap under learning Lucien cost me another loved one. So find a new dog, and then fake it when they see me. In reality, it's probably just some glitch, because the dog's fur color does go back to being the proper color occasionally.

Combat isn't as smooth as I remember from the third game. Trying to use Flourishes worked inconsistently. A third of the time, my character blocks instead. On the other hand, I feel like the enemies are easier. I tend to shift between shooting, hacking, and leveling everyone around me with spells depending on the situation. Not pretty, but it works. I haven't played Fable 3 since I beat it, but I recall having more trouble with hobbes and balverines than I did in this game. Between that and the ready availability of recovery items, I didn't die once, or really even come close to it. Controls are mostly smooth, although the interface when you get near the water's edge kind of sucks. It can be hard to get out of the water, or to get away from the shore once you're in the water. The music is forgettable. None of the tunes stick out, but there's nothing terrible.

The ending was a genuine surprise. I expected a big fight with Lucien, but I'd already had the last big fight without realizing it. I still enjoyed killing him. Didn't even let him finish the first sentence of his bullshit about how I'd accomplished nothing. Killing him certainly counted as something to me. The game gives you an option of one of three wishes, I chose to resurrect my loved ones. I figured it would bring back my dog and my sister (I assume it would have revived any spouse or children I'd lost, if I had them). Well, one out of two ain't bad. One of the other options was to bring back everyone who died rebuilding the Spire (the third was for fabulous wealth). I coulda brought back all those people, and instead brought back. . . a dog. I'm OK with that. Although it's awkward there's still a grave at the place Lucien shot him. I make sure not to go back up there anymore. Best not to confuse the dog. A couple of the other Heroes tried shaming me on it, but if they wanted to make the choice, they should have saved the damn world instead of getting captured like chumps. Once again it falls to Calvin to save the world.

My experience with Fable 3 had me primed for a double-cross by the blind sage, pretty much from the moment she rescued me and started in on how I had some destiny blah, blah. And when she took control of the Spire after Lucien was gone, and sent the rest us on our ways, I was sure I was right. I was gonna have to storm the Spire and cut off her head. Apparently not, though. I'm a little disappointed, since I don't trust her in control of that thing. For the record, I'd only trust myself to the extent I don't know if I'd do anything with it. I might just leave it empty if I could, or store random crap there.

I probably would have posted this review a couple of weeks ago, but there were some quests related to specific buildings I wanted to play, and you have to own those buildings first. Which means having enough money to buy them. As with Fable 3, I hadn't wanted to waste time owning property or doing jobs while I was playing through the main story. So I was starting from behind a bit, and earning enough dough took time. I tried blacksmithing a few times and that was the most tedious shit imaginable. So I bought enough properties to collect enough rent, and once I'd bought all the places I needed for quest purposes, sold all the properties I could. Being part of the landed gentry isn't my style (although I guess I still am, since a few of the properties can't be sold once you buy them).

I don't get everything out of the Fable games, since there's so much of it that doesn't interest me. Owning homes, getting married, courtship, blah blah. I like exploring the worlds and finding secrets, so that part of it I exploit as much as possible, but there's a lot of the game that might as well not even be there. The places behind the Demon Doors always intrigue; I wish they were bigger so I could nose around more. Or at least had some clues as to what went on there. Especially the Winter Lodge.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Everybody Steals Weird Stuff In Jersey

I noticed the Shocker was carrying a bag full of pipes as he walked down the streets of Jersey City. Not pipes like you smoke with, pipes for plumbing.

Which is an odd thing to steal. Herman can't be so hard up for cash he's reduced to stealing copper out of abandoned houses, can he? Maybe he was starting small, to test the waters. Figure out whether this was actually a good idea or not.

Or, on the last page of the issue, there's a wrench in the bag as well, so maybe he's working on some larger plan. I'm not sure what that would be. To construct a large scale version of his vibration gauntlets? He's going to tie-in to the water supply, and unless Jersey City pays his ransom of 150 million dollars, he will randomly vibrate the hell out of all their water. Imagine, some child in the park, wanting to splash in a fountain and suddenly the water is carrying enough energy to cut through them like a buzzsaw.

No, that would be kind of dark for the Shocker. Maybe just put enough energy in it to make it really sting when it strikes your skin. Like getting smacked with a wet towel really sharply. Yeah, that's the ticket! And they'd never know when it might happen. Everyone would be afraid to use their water. No one would bathe! Imagine the smell! Well, this is Jersey we're talking about, might not notice a difference.

He was originally a safecracker, the gauntlets were supposed to make it easier. Maybe he can focus it through the pipes to increase his effective range, or increase the intensity? Maybe running the vibration through the pipes will create a frequency strong enough to recreate Klaw, Master of Sound, who has probably been dispersed to the four winds by the Black Panther sometime recently. I don't know why Shocker would team-up with Klaw, unless someone's paying him to do this, but what the heck. Second and third-string villains gotta stick together, right?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Black Road

The movie is set in a future where part of California and Oregon have become a "free state", and where the main character is a former soldier who has an AI named Clyde he can plug into his brain, but boil it down to its basic story elements, and it's more like an old noir. Think of a film about a near-broke private eye being hired by some poor, defenseless woman to protect her from her big, bad ex, only the situation turns out to be nothing like that at all. That's basically the movie.

There's some other bits. Dylan's ex-girlfriend lives in the area and is dating a local cop, sorry peace officer. The client's ex-husband has some idea going that seems to involve getting the locals addicted to chewing on a root that freaks them out. Clyde seems to be getting increasingly opinionated about Dylan's life. But most of the movie is either his client or her ex telling Dylan one thing, then he suspects the other one of lying. Then that one tells him something else, and he decides the first one he talked to is lying, and so on. A lot of time seems to get spent with Dylan driving his motorcycle back and forth between the two homes.

I don't even remember what the ex-husband had going, because I kept checking out during the movie. None of the characters or their actors made much of an impression. But at least it was only 80 minutes, so it was over quickly.

Monday, July 23, 2018

What I Bought 7/21/2018

I've actually had two quiet weekends in a row. It was fantastic, almost relaxing.

Stellar #2, by Joseph Keatinge (writer), Bret Blevins (artist), Rus Wooton (letterer) - I'm sure her doctor told her that was a perfectly normal test to run, but I think she should have questioned it a bit more.

The sudden appearance of Stellar's former comrades-in-arms was not a hallucination or weird time flux, they really are there to capture her. Which they do. Then they travel to another world, to try and capture another former member of their group, which goes less smoothly. It does result in Stellar being free of confinement, but now she's the one stuck dealing with Zenith.

The main part of the issue is really flashbacks to how the five of them were originally selected and turned into these weapons as children. Stellar is the one who hated what they'd became, and most readily took a chance to get away. The three who captured her, assuming Umbra is representative, seem to have simply accepted it. If nothing else, their lives as prized weapons were better than what they had as refugees before. Zenith is the one who embraced the power, took the whole, "I am superior, I can do whatever I want," approach. Stellar and the others' homeworld appears to have been devastated by the war (or by Zenith?), so what are they doing this for? Umbra suggests the team reunited to stop Zenith, but why? He makes it clear he doesn't want to be there, so are they under orders, or did they choose to deal with an out-of-control former teammate?

Stellar never reaches the point of being a glowing yellow thing in the shape of a person at any point in this issue. Even when she's fighting her old friends. Which is a change from last issue, when she went to that level against them right off the bat. I don't know if that's because they dropped her before she had the chance, or she made a conscious decision not to. She asked them to take the fight elsewhere, away from civilians, and they were unconcerned. Maybe she felt the best option was just to lose quickly, so they'd leave.

She doesn't power up fully against the giant creature she tangles with at the end of the issue, either, but she doesn't really need to. I'm more interested in how Blevins colors it, a sickly yellow-gray over its entire body, even its claws, with all sorts of lines running over and through it. Like it's skin is translucent, and we can see some of the inner workings, circulatory system and what passes for the creature's guts.

This issue had less to it than the first one, which had to spend more time setting thing up, but I'm still intrigued.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #26

"Lost in an Alien Realm" in Anarky (vol. 2) #2, by Alan Grant (writer), Norm Breyfogle (penciler), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Noelle Giddings (colorist), John Costanza (letterer)

So after the 4-issue mini-series, Anarky got his own ongoing, where he tried to change the world by exposing the corrupt framework and by encouraging others to think outside its limitations. Most of that was off-panel. In-story, he fought a creature from outside their universe alongside Kyle Rayner (after the obligatory fight), and stopped Ra's al Ghul from kicking off a world war. In other words, he ran up against other forces bent on changing the world, but only in ways that suited their interests, at the cost of many other lives.

Then the last two issues were a Day of Judgment tie-in and one where Lonnie goes to visit the Joker, who he thinks is his biological father. That goes as well as you think it would. Not sure why Grant thought that was a good way to go. Especially since he and Breyfogle had set-up the idea that there were U.S. politicians getting nervous enough at Anarky to make him a target at the end of the Ra's story, but never ended up getting to it.

Breyfogle's still excellent, of course, especially since there are no pages of Lonnie lecturing his dog on the history of human thought. Actually, I'm not sure what happened to Lonnie's dog.

Friday, July 20, 2018

You Don't Normally Build Giant Monsters To Use Once

Back to Steven Universe for a minute. At some point during the original war between the Crystal Gems and Homeworld, the Diamonds began a project for a massive weapon called the Cluster. They forcibly fused millions of shards of shattered gems into one immense being, shards with just enough awareness to remember they were someone once, but unable to recall or regain that, and left it to gestate deep beneath the Earth's crust. The idea being, when it was ready, the gem shards would create a huge fusion creature that would tear the Earth apart as it emerged.

Before things ever got that far, the Diamonds decided to cut their losses and basically nuke the planet from orbit. They weren't trying to destroy the world, just every gem still on the planet after they ordered their forces to withdraw. It didn't work - the gems in question wound up corrupted with greatly altered forms and little sign they remember who they were - but as far as the Diamonds seemed to know, they'd killed all the rebels and that was that. By that point, the Cluster was basically a final "Fuck you," to a planet that had given them a lot of trouble, and gotten one of their one killed.

That seems like a lot of trouble to go to for just that. Once the Earth is destroyed, they're still left with the planet-destroying fusion monster roaming the cosmos. Maybe they didn't think that far ahead, or they don't have any worlds anywhere near Earth, so the Cluster would never pose a threat to their interests. Still, they sent Peridot to Earth to check on its progress. Maybe that was impatience, although the Gems' lifespans mean they consider centuries to be hardly any time at all. That they'd bother to monitor it suggests they had an interest in the success of the project beyond simply destroying Earth. So what is the end goal?

There's no evidence currently Homeworld has experienced further rebellions since that darn Rose Quartz. The Cluster isn't a pacification weapon, anyway, unless you operate on the same wavelength as Emperor Palpatine, where the sheer scale of the weapon wipes away any hope of resistance just by showing up. That would require the Diamonds to control the Cluster, and be able to transport it through space. Having succeeded once, they could create more, but if it's going to destroy the world when it emerges, again, not a great pacification technique. It kind of ruins the world as a source of resources, which Peridot said Homeworld is running low on, anyway. How far are the Diamonds willing to go for spite?

Up to this point, the only two intelligent species we've seen in the show are the Gems, and humans (assuming you count us as intelligent). We've seen the remains of another colony, when Stevonnie was stranded on it, but whatever civilization we saw seemed to be Gem-related. This doesn't mean there wasn't a preexisting civilization there, or that there isn't one on another world they colonized. Or maybe a world they tried to colonize, and were rebuffed. Because it was already being run by another species, and the Diamonds want something to cope with them. Just because Gems and humans are the only species we've seen so far, doesn't mean they're the only ones out there.

(In this, my mind keeps going to the Next Generation episode where Q decides to make a point by throwing the Enterprise in the path of the Borg. Although it could really be any number of Star Trek episodes. They are constantly running into terrifying new shit in that universe.)

The major flaw in this is we've never heard a Homeworld gem make reference to any sort of conflict, other than the rebellion for Earth. But we also know the Diamonds tend to withhold or distort a lot of information. The various Fusions Steven and Lars encountered on Homeworld all thought Earth had been destroyed thousands of years ago. Pink Diamond and Pearl had no idea two different types of Gems could fuse until they saw Ruby and Sapphire form Garnet. Peridot (and I'd imagine most other Homeworld gems) had no idea there were "unauthorized"fusions on Homeworld at all.

It's possible that, other than the Diamonds, the only gems that would know there was any sort of a conflict, would be the ones fighting in it. If the Diamonds ordered any survivors to keep their mouths shut about it, they most likely would. Although I doubt Gem soldiers get leave. They probably fight until they're not able to, and then they're cast aside. Or their pieces are combined into a new Cluster.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Kodachrome

This is one of those movies where estranged family members try to reconcile over a road trip before one of them dies. Ed Harris is the one dying, Jason Sudekis plays his son, and Elizabeth Olsen plays Harris' nurse who is along for the trip to look after Harris.

Harris is a renowned photographer who was a lousy father and husband and continues to be one. Sudekis works for a record label but appears to be running out of time there because he can't get good bands? I think there's supposed to be a deeper reason, something about lacking the confidence to make people believe in him as a person to elevate their careers, but it kind of gets lost in the shuffle of his and Harris' snapping at each other, and everyone else telling Sudekis to give his dad a chance, and open up to him.

There is not a single surprising development in this entire film. If you've seen movies with this premise before, then you've seen this one. There's a romantic subplot between Olsen and Sudekis that feels entirely awkward, unearned, and just a bad idea in general.

I only watched for Ed Harris, who achieved the unusual goal of playing a character that's such an ass I didn't like him at all. I mean, I almost always root for Ed Harris, as long as he doesn't play a Nazi soldier (see, Enemy at the Gates). His character is so unlikable that I resent the movie for constantly implying that Sudekis should just put his issues aside and give his dad another chance. Every time he does, his dad verbally emasculates him. He's like Gary Cole's character in Talladega Nights. Every time things are going well, he deliberately goes and ruins things. What, he's owed forgiveness for decades of being a shitty person just because he's dying? To hell with that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What I Bought 7/14/2018

While meeting my dad in town last weekend, I went hunting for some comics I'd missed from earlier this month. I only found one of the three, but it's the one I like best, so that's OK.

Giant Days #40, by John Allison (writer), Max Sarin (artist), Whitney Cogar (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer) - That's the danger of running away, you leave your back exposed.

Ed returns to Sheffield, and things are awkward. He's struggling to talk to Esther, and Esther dislikes how things stand, but can't figure out how to fix it. Also, Ed thinks Esther has probably blabbed to Susan and Daisy, but she hasn't. She and the others do spruce up the broom closet Ed's calling a room, and then the two of them talk a bit. It seems Ed has truly given up the ghost, and Esther may be bothered by it? In other troubling developments, Ingrid is back and has a new boyfriend. I'm sure Daisy will not go into any sort of tailspin about how she's single but Ingrid has seemingly rebounded with ease!

What I found interesting is that Esther says (to herself), that she's known how Ed felt about her, which I was I not expecting. She liked it, but wanted him to remain her friend. She liked their friendship, which I understand. And her goal is do-able, I guess? It would have helped if they had discussed it at some earlier point, but that would fall on Ed to initiate, since he's the one with romantic feelings. When he did confess, he promptly climbed a wall and busted his ankles, and has been avoiding her calls ever since. I'm concerned she compared Ed to her high school boyfriend, considering she cheated on that boy five seconds after she got to college. "He's kind, so I can take advantage of him," may not have be the comparison she meant, but it's one that flitted across my mind as I read that. Considering she confesses feeling guilty about getting the room Ed was supposed to get, maybe she thinks she took advantage? At the same time, I can appreciate her desire to not lose a good friendship, so it's all a big mess, and the room thing was ultimately Ed's decision, so it's one he has to own.

Max Sarin is back as artist after a two-month hiatus. There aren't any hallucinations or moments to really exaggerate the characters in this issue, but he continues his usual fine work with expressions and body language. Susan mimicking a cat in the sunny spot in Esther's room was a particularly good one, if only because it's odd to see Susan so happy when she isn't verbally eviscerating someone. In the panel on the left, Esther reminds me of a different fictional character, but I can't decide if it's Kate Bishop (which might be from the color of the shirt and that awful simile) or Chi-Chi from DragonBall (mostly based on the hair). I doubt Sarin was thinking of either of those two, just showing Esther changing up her hair, as she does periodically.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Biogeography and Ecology in Tasmania

This is a collection of scientific articles about different animal groups in Tasmania, and the effects the created their distributions. Each chapter is a paper summarizing the information they have about a general biotic group. Earthworms in one chapter, birds in another, and so on.

It was published in the mid-1970s, although I was sure I'd seen a publication date from the early 2000s. This is a bit of an issue, not just because some of the information is doubtlessly out of date, but because at the time, there were large sections of the island that hadn't even been surveyed. This comes up in the aquatic animal sections especially, when the various authors note that there are several lakes in more remote parts of the country that they have no idea what lives in them. And when the information on what is present is limited, so are the inferences or theories one can make about why. But I was curious about the animal life present in Tasmania, and this is a good place to start.

Each section is written by a different author, and so there's some variation in how readable each section is. Some writers lean more heavily on scientific terminology than others, and some just plain have a better grasp of writing English the others. The last section, on the history of conservation efforts and future problems had some curious wording and phrasing choices.

They authors also take different approaches to the subject. D.G. Thomas' chapter on birds doesn't focus on which particular species are present and their ecology. It's more what determined which species made it to Tasmania, and why they succeeded or failed in establishing a permanent population. It draws heavily from MacArthur and Wilson's theory of island (our insular) biogeography, which was less than 15 years old at the time this book was published. R.H. Green's chapter on mammals discusses major habitat types, then does a brief section on each indigenous species, their ecology, and how their numbers seem to be doing in the face of human expansion and compared to similar species on the island, or compared to any populations that might remain on the Australian continent.

Turns out there are quite a few species that were ultimately out-competed or otherwise driven to extinction on Australia that have a remnant population in Tasmania. Because the species that out-competed them didn't make it south before the Bassian Land Bridge became the Bass Strait, and thus could not make it to Tasmania in time.

'As previously suggested (Williams, 1970b) in general terms, one explanation may for the greater abundance in lakes in the south-west may be that since many of these are remote, they do not (yet?) contain the introduced trout, Salmo trutta, a known predator of Anaspides tasmaniae, and it is in the absence of this fish which allows continued survival of the syncarid in habitats which were previously perhaps more typical for it over the whole of the island.'

Monday, July 16, 2018

What I Bought 7/11/2018 - Part 2

The Cardinals finally fired Mike Matheny this weekend. Probably two years too late, but better than never. I doubt this is going to magically fix everything, but it's one less incompetent boob in a position he's entirely unqualified for in this world. Progress!

Ms. Marvel #32, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nico Leon (artist), Ian herring (color artist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Friends don't dump friends into beakers with bubbly liquids, Bruno. Ha, I almost called it a test tube. Boy, would my face have been red!

Bruno and Kamala resume trying to understand her powers, so naturally they go completely on the fritz. Certainly the close proximity of these two possibly-more-than-friends to each other has nothing to do with that. It's bad timing, because the Shocker has decided to host a crime wave in Jersey City. I thought for a bit her power issues were the result of Shocker using his vibro-blaster things. It's kind of like electricity, which disrupts her powers, but not quite, so maybe it would disrupt them in an unusual way. But no, no, it's probably just emotional turmoil.

Funny to see Bruno state he's done climbing fences and being the sidekick, then the second Kamala leaps into action Bruno is scrounging through his bag trying to find something to help. Like Kamala was worried about, making the same mistakes in all new ways. I'm not sure what the way out is, though. They're friends, they care about each other. Bruno's going to want to help his friend, and Kamala would naturally get his perspective on something that was troubling her, although I suspect he'll share that duty with Zoe, Mike, and Nakia going forward. As for the possible romantic flare-up, I don't know what to do about that.

Leon shows the Shocker's powers as functioning as a pressure wave pushing things away from him. A lot of times, artists show them more as generic power blasts, that hit something and pulverize, leaving a crater. Or sometimes it's treated almost like electricity. But this way, Leon can represent its effect by showing things being blown away, which allows for amusing visual gags. Like the guy walking his dog past the pizza place in one panel, then they both go flying the other way in the next panel. There's one panel where the sound effect has shockwaves emanating from him out towards the people being blown away, which was a nice touch. And he's very effective at using Shocker's eyes to convey emotion, considering that's the only part of his face there is to work with.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #34, by Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Is Kraven a good harmonica player? Can he hunt down a tune?

Everyone's in jail. Tony Stark can't get them out, but can at least get the cops not to snoop into their secret identities. Doreen yells at Kraven about his extensive criminal background, which, how did she not know about this? He had a supervillain trading card! Which, OK, fine, Deadpool was also listed as a super-villain on pretty much all the different series of trading cards I owned. But that is totally different! To be fair, the sequence of the Police Chief standing there, waiting for Kraven's record to print on their ancient printer made me laugh. Although I thought it was just taking a long time because there were so many crimes, not because the printer is old as the hills, but hey, the joke still worked.

There is a trial, with an annoying prosecutor named Courtney Alaska, which is not an awesome name, I don't care what Ryan North thinks. And she's deliberately baiting Jennifer Walters, which seems unwise. Yes, if she loses control and Hulks out, you probably win your case. Your skeleton will also probably be reduced to dust, which will limit your quality of life. Doesn't seem like a fair trade, but perhaps Courtney Alaska really loves winning cases that much. Poor life priorities, but she wouldn't be the first.

Everyone is acquitted - except Kraven, who is deemed beyond redemption. Which causes him to jump out a window. He encounters Spider-Man, who I don't recall ever actually saying he's going to catch villains just like flies before now, regardless of what Ryan North says. I am disagreeing with Ryan North a lot this month. If he'd stop being wrong, it would stop happening.

Derek Charm draws a pretty good Spider-Man. Reminds me of Mark Buckingham's work, from when he and Paul Jenkins worked on Peter Parker: Spider-Man back in the early 2000s. I'm gradually getting more used to Charm's art. His Nancy Whitehead is still the character I'm having the most issue with, but the pacing on a lot of the jokes - like the one about the cops' printer - still work with him as artist like they did with Erica Henderson.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunday Splash Page #25

"Man, This Philosophy 101 Prof is Weird", in Anarky (vol. 1) #2, by Alan Grant (writer), Norm Breyfogle (penciler), Josef Rubinstein (inker), Noelle Giddings (colorist), John Costanza (letterer)

What I know about Anarky, the character, comes from this mini-series and the short-lived ongoing that followed it, which we'll look at next week. What I know about anarchy, the political system, comes from books I read about the Spanish Civil War, but that's neither here nor there.

Anarky's a 15-year old, brilliant and inspired by Batman to take changing the world into his own hands. By building a machine powered by energies stolen from Etrigan, Batman, and Darkseid. Grant takes the approach that Etrigan has no free will, and that what we think of as Darkseid is just one part of him in a particular form. Which is not a notion I had ever seen before.

Watching Anarky argue and fight with them, especially as drawn by Norm Breyfogle, is a lot of fun. It was Breyfogle being the artist that made me track this down. I know that's not the most dynamic full-page splash up there, but I love some of the layouts he use on pages with more than one panel, and he's always good at drawing fight scenes.

Friday, July 13, 2018

What I Bought 7/11/2018 - Part 1

A day after I put up that post about Parks and Rec, I got to an episode where Ben ending up spending his wedding anniversary with Larry instead of Leslie and they got along. Then a couple of episodes later, Ben decided Larry was actually a decent guy and tried to get the rest of the characters to acknowledge that. It ended badly but at least it was something.

Domino #4, by Gail Simone (writer), David Baldeon (artist), Jesus Arbutov (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Well, know I know Greg Land can draw unconscious people who don't look terrifying now. They are unconscious, right? Shang-Chi wouldn't straight murder them, or let Domino do so, right?

We get a flashback that explains the connection between Topaz and this Desmond fellow, and now I understand the connection between his problems and Domino's powers a little better. Diamondback and Outlaw, having figured out Domino suspects one of them, try to hunt the villains down, but that doesn't seem to be going well. Domino is trying to learn from Shang-Chi, which mostly seems to involve her getting beat up. They do take a break, but they're going to be attacked by some of Shang's old enemies.

I think one of my favorite bits from this issue is Deadpool giving Outlaw and Diamondback a heads up on where to find Topaz and Desmond, and wanting to go along. Even though Topaz could shut Wade's healing factor off. Not that possibly dying is a thing that's going to deter Wade at the best of times, but it's nice to see Deadpool wanting to help his friends, and those people worrying about his well-being.

I'm less sure about how silly or flip Domino seems to be acting. Maybe that's a consequence of having a power that makes everything work out for you, or it's just meant to be her covering her fear. But the thing this arc has kept hammering is how spooked Topaz and Desmond have her, how concerned she is about being reliant on a power she can't control. She was ready to beat Topaz to death with her bare hands last issue.

Maybe the more manic, silly tone suits Baldeon's art better. I think he can handle quiet moments fine, the brief dance scene with Domino and Shang is nice. There's a part where he does a close-up on both their eyes when she fails to shoot him, then a callback later in this issue when she successfully lands a punch. But he draws a lot of people with outsized emotions on display. Big scowls or signs of exertion, yelling or looking really angry. It works for what's happening. Topaz and Desmond really seem to enjoy hurting people, Outlaw and Diamondback are pissed these two are wrecking their team. "Subdued" isn't really on the menu.

Infinity Countdown Darkhawk #4, by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims (writers), Gang Hyuk Lim (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - In case you thought I was joking about the giant Darkhawk mecha last issue.

There's a lot of fighting. Nova shows up, trying to track down his brother, who he doesn't realize is hosting a giant space bird in his body. Nova and Darkhawk keep getting in each other's way, and did Nova get a serious power downgrade? I don't think a bunch of Darkhawks should be able to do this well against a guy who killed Annihilus. Chris kills Rich's brother, so Rich is pissed at him. Chris returns to Earth, and then Sleepwalker shows up to segue into another tie-in mini-series.

Chalk this up as a poor buying decision on my part. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice, no. For as much as I thought Sims and Bowers (Sims, mostly) kept up on continuity, they don't know Death's Head already tried to kill Richard Rider once, so they'd know each other? It was in a comic that came out a year ago, it's not that far back. Whatever, minor thing, just annoyed me a little. I don't really get where Nova's coming from exactly in his reactions towards Darkhawk. Maybe it's just that he's stressed because his brother's involved and he feels guilty. Most of what I'm basing Nova and 'Hawk's relationship on is their interactions in the Abnett/Lanning era, and I feel like that's what Sims and Bowers are using also. But it also feels like they're either drawing on something else as well, or they interpreted things differently from how I did.

The issue is basically one big fight scene, and it doesn't seem to play to Lim's strengths. Drawing mostly characters encased entirely in armor, with no facial expressions can't make things easy, but the art is stiff and characters posed. A lot of the time it doesn't feel as if things are flowing naturally from one panel to the next, characters don't sell the force of a blow or the amount they're exerting themselves with their posture. You can tell what's happening, but it feels less like we're seeing the progression of events, and more like we're catching a brief glimpse. Character was there, now character is here. You can infer what happened in between, so it still works, I guess. But it's nothing that gets me enthused about it.

Man, even the sound effects bug me. The lettering style and shades of color used don't feel like they fit with the tone of the art. Make the "CHOOM" a more noticeably bigger, or make the edges of it more jagged or something! Yes, I know, they're in space, there shouldn't be sound effects anyway. But there are, so we might as well assess them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Steven's "Hugs and Talking" Strategy Is Going To Be Tested This Time

I feel like discussing something related to the Steven Universe episodes that came out last week. If you haven't seen them, and you don't want them SPOILED, consider this your time to head to another web page. Or you could take a stroll through my older posts. Whatever works.

(Let's give them a minute. Doo-de-doo-doo. OK, I'm impatient, let's go.)

So Diamonds Blue and Yellow know Steven is Pink Diamond, or has her gem in his stomach. And they know or will soon find out the reason Pink wasn't shattered by Rose Quartz is because Pink and Rose were the same person. Pink Diamond was secretly the leader of the rebellion against her rule of the colony they'd established on Earth. That seems like that's going to cause some upset, particularly with Blue, who has been in very vocal mourning for over 5,000 years now over Pink's death. That Pink was never really gone, that she was, in a sense, playing a trick on the other Diamonds, might not go well.

Pearl could try explaining that Pink tried telling them she didn't want to sap the Earth of all life in the process of producing more Gems for Homeworld, and Blue and Yellow dismissed her concerns. But I'm not sure the Diamonds will listen to a Pearl. Both of them have their own Pearl, and they treat them like smartphones, essentially. Play music for me, store my stuff, sit around and wait for me to need you for something. Pearls are slaves, although I've seen good arguments that all Gem classes other than Diamonds are basically slaves. Each class is supposed to have a specific function, and deviating from that function, or being unable to carry it out, is not acceptable. But Pearls are specifically mentioned as "belonging" to someone.

Point being, if Pearl tries talking to them first, I'm worried they'd try destroying her for such impudence.

One thing that comes up frequently is Gems don't understand what Steven is. Understandable; children as we think of them don't exist for Homeworld. Most Gems - or at least Jasper and Amethysts - pop out of the Earth fully formed and ready for their task. They can shapeshift or alter their forms, but they don't age and develop the same as humans. Gems can fuse, to produce a being who is parts of each, but also its own being. But they can break that fusion and return to their original selves. Garnet can go back to being Ruby and Sapphire, two separate Gems. Garnet believed baby Steven was some odd fusion of Rose and Greg (where Greg still existed as a separate entity), and the fusion simply couldn't recall how to split back into two.

Most Gems assume Steven simply is Rose Quartz. He has her Gem, her shield, her powers (mostly). Jasper was certain Steven was Rose in disguise, though she couldn't understand why Rose would keep challenging her in this puny form. That isn't too unusual. Gems tend to barely notice Stephen until they see the gem, or he summons Rose's shield, but once those things happen, they think he's Rose. I'm not sure the Diamonds are going to think much differently.

Granted, they've met Steven before, when he went to Homeworld to stand trial for Rose's "crimes". Where it became clear that he didn't know anything about how Pink was supposedly shattered. Because he doesn't have his mother's memories, though he gets some of them now and then in dreams. And there was a bit in the promo at the end of the last episode where he tells them outright he doesn't have Pink's memories. The concern I have is, Blue and Yellow know Steven has Pink's gem. They may not grasp that this does not make Steven Pink Diamond. They know or are going to know Pink was actually Rose all along. That she lied to them, tricked them. Given that, are they going to wonder if Steven was playing a game when he was on trial, just pretending to not have Rose's memories? If Pink lied to them once. . .

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Starman Volume 9 - Grand Guignol

I forgot to fold back the corner I dogeared to mark that page, which I think in certain corners of the Internet would get me tried as a war criminal. Never understood that bit of fanaticism, although I didn't even know it was a thing until stumbling across people arguing about it on Twitter (naturally). That's how I keep track of the passages I want to remember, or consider quoting when I do book reviews. How many note cards and bookmarks am I supposed to have on hand? Can you still read the page? Then it's fine.

Anyway, Volume 9 covers issues 61-73 of Starman, by James Robinson (writer), Peter Snejbjerg (artist), Gregory Wright (colorist), and Bill Oakley (letterer). Jack Knight returns from space just in time to deal with the army of villains assembled by an angry man with the Shade's powers who wants to cast the entire city into a horrifying dimension. Fortunately, there's a whole army of people to help Jack, too.

On the one hand, it's really impressive how many threads Robinson tries to bring together here. Plot lines that he established in the earliest issues of the series. I do love a story where the heroes who have to save the day are not the usual suspects. He moves between the various characters smoothly enough that you don't lose track of what everyone is up to. Plays to the characters' strengths - I enjoyed Ralph and Sue trying to solve a mystery while everyone else is scrambling around punching - and makes some of these villains I'd never heard of pretty interesting.

Not all of them. The Mist (the younger one) gets a raw deal. I don't know what it says that she seems like a mediocre villain, but she might have been the closest to Jack's arch-foe. Her dad is his dad's arch-enemy, Culp is the Shade's, who does that leave as Jack's, other than her? She's a sadist who talks big, but kind of chump, like Bullseye crossed with the Shocker.

The story bogs down in places. Trying to explain the wide range of crimes and personalities the Shade has demonstrated over his history as a character felt unnecessary. Maybe that's because I only know the character from this series. I don't know the stories where he had a "Shademobile" or plotted to blow up the world, so I haven't been trying to reconcile them. A few elements were set up earlier, but felt like they'd been left alone long enough that their sudden importance comes out of left field (the detective the Dibnys track down, for one). Granted I haven't bought volumes 5, 6, or 8, maybe Hamilton Drew pops up again there. Adam Strange and some of the other space trip callbacks felt out of place, like Robinson's trying to go a little too big. Especially since it seems to hinge on such personal animosities, Culp and Shade, the Mist and Starman.

But overall, I think the story treads on the good side of the line. I can't fault Robinson for trying to go big with it, to really have a grand climax.

Snejbjerg and Wright's artwork is clear and easy to follow. The heavy shadows contrast with the scattered flashes of light that normally mark the heroes fighting back. There's a two-page fight between Ted Knight and Doctor Phosphorous that's entirely an aerial view of Ted's home, with two different colors of light moving about across the panels. That was pretty slick. Culp's emergence, where his panels are darkness erupting against a bright red background, switching back and forth with panels of Jack being overwhelmed by the villain army done all in blacks and deep purples.

The next volume, which I reviewed two months ago, is the end of the series (not counting that Blackest Night tie-in issue where the title was "resurrected" for a month) and spends its time trying to tie up all the loose ends and decide where everyone stands when the music stops.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Not All The Jokes Are Gonna Land

A friend of mine has been rather insistent that I watch Parks & Recreation. I had to skip half of the very short Season 1, and there were a few episodes in Seasons 2 I skipped after a few minutes. Actually I skipped almost all of Leslie's campaign for city council. Seeing her struggle in an election against a complete moron who was totally reliant on money from his daddy was too unpleasant to watch. But overall, halfway through Season 6, it's been good. Adding Chris and Ben late in Season 2 helped. Even if most episodes have one subplot I can't stand, the other two or three are funny.

The one thing that hasn't work is Jerry/Gary/Larry Gergich. Nothing against the actor, just the function he plays on the show, the character everybody else craps on constantly. His attempts to help or express genuine enthusiasm are dismissed or ridiculed. The show seems to encourage us to go along with it. Ha ha, April stole his inhaler and is giving it to Ron to buy his cabin! Sucks for you, Jerry! Tom loses the stupid tiny horse, blames Jerry, and everyone just goes with it.

The show hasn't done anything to make me want to see him constantly humiliated. When Ron suffers because his stupid pride won't let him go to a hospital or ask for help, yeah, I laugh. He's created the problem, and refuses to take steps to solve it. Same when Tom's mouth writes a check he can't cash, or when Leslie tries to just steamroll everyone into doing what she wants, only for it to blow up in her face.

Jerry's flaw is. . . he's not a good public speaker? He's kind of clumsy? He has bad timing? Even Chris, who is this endlessly positive character, outwardly at least, treats Jerry as though he's worthless. Which is the joke, I know. The guy who is friendly and upbeat to everyone, even the reprehensible Councilman Jamm, can't be bothered to pretend he gives a shit about Jerry Gergich. Ha ha. But the show failed utterly to give me a reason go along with it.

I was happy when Jerry retired, because that meant all this was over. Then they contrived reasons for him to come back so it could continue. I know Jerry explained once to Leslie that he didn't mind that his career hadn't turned out as he dreamed because he has a wonderful family to come home to every night, and the nature of his work meant he could be home with them every night. So I assume we're meant to take it as the joke is on all the others, because Jerry is content and happy with his life. That would probably work better if the others were actually miserable in their lives, but they aren't. We know the treatment bothers him because of that episode where he pretended he got mugged, because he was afraid of the constant jokes the others would make if they knew the truth.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Let's Try For A Prediction Winning Streak

The duplicate Jamie Madrox found in a secret lab was working on a serum so duplicates like himself could exist more independently of Jamie Prime. He needs it now that he's breaking down on a cellular level, what with Jamie Prime dead from the Terrigen Mists, and Hank McCoy's working on it.

So, my theory about the weird versions of Jamie Madrox crossed with various heroes, and why that one Jamie doesn't want Hank to finish the serum.

Hank succeeded at some point in the future, but there are unexpected side effects, as there typically are. Now duplicate Jamies can absorb each other the way Jamie Prime used to, but they can also absorb other people as well. Then they can create duplicates that possess characteristics of those other people. Like how Jamie could, usually inadvertently, create dupes that represented his fear, or hunger, or guilt. The upgraded duplicate Jamies can even mix-and-match. Which is how you get a Jamie Madrox who is also Cable, and Warlock.

Anyway, the Jamies started absorbing people, stuff went out of control, and that's why one of them went back in time to tell Hank not to finish the serum.

And now we play the waiting game.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Alternate Favorite Marvel Characters #2 - Doctor Doom

Character: Doctor Doom (Victor von Doom)

Creators: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #5

First encounter: Fantastic Four #287. Part of a grab bag of Marvel stuff as a Christmas present, along with most of my first encounters for Marvel. Some guy attacks the Latverian embassy while Sue, She-Hulk, and the Wasp are visiting a hair stylist conveniently across the street. The guy claims Doom has his wife, so they help. Turns out the guy is Doom, inhabiting some poor schmo's body, and the Doom they saw through the window is a Doombot. Heck of a way to get introduced to the idea Doom can body-hop.

Huh, it was the issue after Jean Grey came back. At least I dodged that bullet.

Definitive writer: The trick is, I don't own very many Fantastic Four comics. Almost all the Doctor Doom appearances I have come from other titles.  I'm pretty fond of Roger Stern's version, but that's based entirely off one story.

It should probably be Stan Lee, but as I think I mentioned when I did this for the Thing, I only know the Lee/Kirby run by reputation, and all the endless callbacks everyone else does. Based on the Fantastic Four comics I actually own, it's probably Walt Simonson. His Doom was petty enough during Acts of Vengeance to create a device to compel villains to attack the FF constantly, but also have it be total loser villains who have no hope of stealing his victory.

'Course, that turned out to be a Doombot, or the Super-Adaptoid disguised as a Doombot, but when Doom showed up again, he got a cool new look, and showed he was still smarting from the beating the Thing gave him on the Baxter Building roof all those years ago. He had enough honor - or pretense of honor - to give Reed a chance to challenge him in a duel, but still cheat when things started to turn against him.

Definitive artist: John Byrne. I feel like Byrne hit the sweet spot on the armor. Detailed and with enough openings around the eyes to let Doom be expressive. Imposing, but not overly bulky.

Favorite moment or story: Amazing Spider-Man #350. This might be the second comic I read with Doom in it. He shows up looking for the Black Fox, aged thief who stole a gem from a Latverian museum exhibit to finance his retirement. A gem that was a memento of Doom's mother. Spidey, being the conscientious sort, tries to stop Doom from murdering the septuagenarian, and Doom spends 15 pages absolutely kicking Spider-Man's ass for it.

Up to that point, my impression of Doom was formed by his Marvel Universe Series 3 trading card, where his stats were good, but not overwhelming. I was used to Spider-Man facing the Sinister Six and if not winning, holding his own. Doom was just one guy. So him utterly trouncing Spidey was a surprise. Spidey only survives by, as he puts it, playing on Doom's vanity and desire to protect his mother's name. He gives Spidey a chance to fix things, and when it's all said and done, he keeps his word. Up to a point. He gives Spider-Man 24 hours, and when those are up, he is there instantly. The gem is in the possession of cultists trying to summon a murderous swarm back to Earth. Doom won't directly help, but he sort of does by attacking any of the cannon fodder that are dumb enough to attack him. He gets his gem back, then lets Spider-Man talk him out of murdering the Black Fox, settling for destroying his retirement fund (a large diamond).

How dangerous Doom was, his devotion to his mother's memory, the way he'll make deals and honor them, but only up to the precise limit of what he said. I imagine years of dealing with Mephisto trained him to be extremely specific about wording in any agreement.

What I like about him: When I did the Favorite Character post for Arcade, I called him my favorite villain, then allowed there was one other character I liked better who was a villain sometimes. Here we are. Before we go any further, I should say I have read almost no comics with Doom in them since he made his "face" turn after Secret Wars. So I can't speak to "trying to be a good guy while dressing as Iron Man" Victor von Doom.

Saying Doom is a villain "sometimes" is an understatement, but Doom is capable of being a hero, or at least allying himself with heroes. Granted, Doom working with the heroes means things have gone to hell, and he's usually looking out for his own self-interests.
Whether it's teaming up with the remaining heroes to confront Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet, or trying to keep Shadowcat's molecules from dispersing across infinity. In the former, Doom can't very well rule the world if Thanos is out there with ultimate power, able to wipe Doom from existence whenever he pleases. In the latter example, Doom was motivated by a more personal reason: The chance to get one over on Reed Richards (we'll come back to that).

But the capacity is there, and it makes him at least a bit of a wild card. If Doom shows up in a comic, most likely he is there as an antagonist, he is the problem our hero must confront. But there's a chance he won't be. If he works with a hero, there's a decent chance he will keep his word and not betray them. When he got Dr. Strange's help rescuing his mother's soul from Hell, he truly threw in with Strange and worked with him. He was even willing to be openly trained in sorcery by Strange, admitting Strange was his superior in that regard. That's a big deal given Doom's ego.

That's no guarantee the next time they meet they'll work together, but on that occasion, Doom played it fair. In the Spider-Man story I mentioned above, he made an agreement with Spider-Man, and as Spidey held up his end of the bargain, so did Doom. When Damage Control showed up with an unpaid bill, Doom immediately sat down to write out a check, and didn't even take offense when one of them asked to see an ID. I know that most of the time, he won't keep his word, or he always intended to betray them. But there's always the possibility he is going to play square. You don't know what you're getting when he shows up. Those brief glimpses of his capacity for decency make him just a bit unpredictable.

Most of the time though, he's a villain, and he's a damn good villain. He's got a good look with the armor, especially when they leave enough space around the eyes to do those intense close-ups where you can see the scarring (Byrne was good at those). The gauntlets can look imposing crushing an object in his grasp or whatever. Then the cloak, the setting himself up in a nice chair with a goblet for effect. The apparently deep voice (assuming we can trust Captain America on Doom's ability to speak his name in all caps) and impressive vocabulary to use in his threats. The guy knows how to apply dramatic effect. Which can even be used for comedy when you play it right.

He's a scientific genius and no slouch when it comes to magic. He has an entire country of (mostly) devoted/terrified citizens. You can do something with security vs. freedom if you want, since there seem to be people that are fine with Doom running their lives, and ones that aren't. He creates potential diplomatic issues, since the hero may have to deal with their own government and Doom, where they end up caught between the two. He has an army of robots, several of which end up forgetting they aren't actually him, because apparently his personality is so impressive it just overrides everything else. Plus, the Doombots allow for him to be used to give heroes big, improbable wins. It can always be written it off as a Doombot later. Also, robots are fun to watch get smashed in big fight scenes. He has big aspirations, so he can be on a world-domination plan, the kind of thing where you can raise the stakes by throwing an entire team at him, or by forcing one hero to face him, to make the odds longer.

At the same time, he can be incredibly petty and become focused on the smallest perceived slight, so it can become an intensely personal conflict. He once rewrote one of Reed's diaries to make it look as though the accident that created the FF was something Reed had planned all along. He figured it would wreck their team whenever someone read it, even though he had no idea when that would be. That's impressive, really. He's driven enough, combined with everything else to be incredibly dangerous. This is a guy who challenged a sentient universe, and won, stealing its power. 

Of course, he also lost that power because he was tricked into feeding his doubts about himself. Doom is his own worst enemy. At the end of Hickman's Secret Wars, I compared Reed Richards to Gladstone Gander from the Donald Duck comics: The guy things always work out for, whether he deserves it or not. Dr. Doom is more like Donald: The one who could accomplish a lot if he wasn't constantly thwarting himself with his own greed, anger, and jealousy. He can't resist the urge to gloat or boast. He can't envision there's a flaw in his plans, and he thinks he understands other people, so it's always someone else's fault. Since he filters everything through how he looks at the world, he misreads people and underestimates them. He turned Storm into a living metal statue, and didn't anticipate it would drive her claustrophobia to the extent she'd go berserk once she was free, and that he'd be in deep trouble at that point. He can't stop trying to one-up Reed by trying to kill him and his friends, then cursing the universe when they somehow escape because he underestimated them again. He could simply do all the world-changing things Reed doesn't do (because the writers want the world to stay something closer to our own), and soak up the adulation.

At some point, Reed should announce publicly he's going to end world hunger in the next day because, 'he's the only one who can.' Doom would end it five minutes after the announcement just to thumb his nose at Reed. DOOM Puffs: The nutritious all-in-one meal brought to you by Dr. Doom, our wonderful and beloved monarch! It is ridiculous Doom wastes his time trying to "best" Reed by killing him. By the first time he attacked the Fantastic Four, he'd already built a time machine! Reed's messing around with a fabric for pants so that Johnny can't them burn off, and Doom's mastered time travel.

But part of the fun is the absurd lengths Doom will go to mess with them. When Sharon Ventura was the She-Thing, Doom cured her just so he could use her to lure the FF into a trap. He helped Sue deliver a child through a difficult pregnancy so he could have the right to name the kid. He challenged Cap's Kooky Quartet not because he considered them a threat to his goals, but because he thought they were such pushovers he could easily use them as hostages against the Fantastic Four. You have to love a villain willing to fight one superhero team strictly to draw out a different superhero team. That's dedication to spite.

I like Doom as a constant thorn in Richards' side. I'm not going to pretend Reed is the real villain - Reed typically doesn't take over entire countries - but he seems good at ducking consequences of his more questionable actions. He was right there next to Iron Man all through Civil War, building cyborg murderclones and throwing Speedball in a Negative Zone prison. While Stark spent the next two years getting chewed out or punched by every other hero, Reed skated away clean. He and Sue patched things up on Titan while T'Challa and Storm covered for him on the FF. How does that work?
But we have Doom to harass him constantly. I root for Doom against Reed the same way I root for Wil E. Coyote: I know it might end the story if he actually defeats Reed, but I still like to see him rub Richards' nose in it. Doom has come close a few times. Stolen Reed's body once or twice, nearly wrecked his family. Doom makes the mistake of assuming Reed is like him (a lesser version of Doom, obviously, but similar) when there are differences. But they're alike enough he knows how to hurt him.

Because of all his flaws, Doom does feel very human to me. His inability to let go of past slights, blaming everyone else for his failures. His conviction he knows what's best for everyone, that he's always right. He has doubts, but tries very hard to pretend he doesn't. Every so often he can do something self-sacrificing, like free his mother's soul from Hell even though she'll escape believing he betrayed the Sorcerer Supreme to Mephisto to accomplish it. He's very aware of what others think of him. I don't know what the actual situation in Latveria is, but I usually figure it has low poverty and disease rates, and is environmentally-friendly (killer robots running on renewable energy!). It would reflect badly on Doom otherwise (he's obviously not so concerned with his reputation with regards to civil liberties). Same thing when Damage Control showed up with that unpaid bill. Can't have people thinking Dr. Doom is a bum. I'm going to argue "malfunctioning Doombot" for that time he stiffed Luke Cage of $200.

Sometimes he uses the awareness to his advantage. He pretended that curing Sharon Ventura would unlock an understanding of genetic engineering he could use to make Latveria a lot of money, so he can cut taxes. Because if he said he just wanted to help, Sharon would immediately suspect "trap". In Triumph and Torment, Mephisto is sure Doom would betray Dr. Strange in exchange for his mother. Doom uses that as a way to get he and Strange in the same place, but still catch Mephisto off-guard. One other thing from that story I like is how offended he gets when Strange suspects Doom's favor will involve helping take over the world, and then Mephisto offers that before offering the soul of Doom's mom. Both times, it isn't that they know Doom's out to take over the world that bugs him. It's that they think he'd need their help to do it.

I like Doom because he's a big character. Even when his actions or motivations are small or petty, he does them in a BIG manner.

Credits! Doom makes his first appearance on the big screen on the cover of Fantastic Four#5, by Jack Kirby (penciler), Joe Sinnot (inker), Stan Goldberg (colorist), Artie Simek (letterer). Spider-Man's having a worse day than usual in Amazing Spider-Man #350, by David Michelinie (writer), Erik Larsen (penciler), Randy Emberlin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist), Rick Parker (letterer). Elephants could learn a few things about never forgetting from DOOM in Fantastic Four #350, by Walt Simonson (writer/penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Brad Vancata (colorist), Bill Oakley (letterer). Doom colorfully outlines how outclassed Gwen is in Unbelievable Gwenpool #23, by Christopher Hastings (writer), Irene Strychalski (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer). Doom greets death by enjoying caviar in the face of a brassed-off Susan Richards in Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #4, by Chris Claremont (writer), Jon Bogdanove (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer). Mephisto thought Doom would be more impressed with his new home entertainment system in Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, by Roger Stern (writer), Mike Mignola (penciler), Mark Badger (inker and color artist), Jim Novak (letterer). Doom uses checks because Latverian Express isn't accepted everywhere in Damage Control (vol. 1) #2, by Dwyane McDuffie (writer), Ernie Colon (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), John Wellington (colorist), Rick Parker (letterer). Doom could fund the Latverian economy with seminars on announcing your presence with authority based on Avengers and the Infinity Gauntlet #1, by Brian Clevinger and Lee Black (writers), Brian Churilla (artist), Michelle Madsen (color artist), Jeff Powell (letterer).

Friday, July 06, 2018

What I Bought 7/5/2018

I got too much sun over the Fourth of July. Being outdoors in the summer is always a bad idea. Reading comics indoors is a good idea. Sometimes.

Multiple Man #1, by Matt Rosenberg (writer), Andy MacDonald (artist), Tamra Bonvillain (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer) - Jamie's looking a little crazy on that cover.

So, Madrox Prime (and presumably Layla Miller) are still dead, courtesy of that stupid Inhumans vs. X-Men mini-series. But at least one duplicate had locked himself away in a lab earlier trying to allow duplicates more autonomy. But he's still dying for some reason. He steals Bishop's time travel device (which he casually carries on his belt like a pocketwatch). Then a bunch of Jamies start showing up at the mansion, telling Beast not to find the cure for the duplicate Jamie's condition. One of them may somehow be Jamie Prime? He absorbed one of the others, but most of them appear to be strange hybrids of Jamie and other Marvel characters.

I am not entirely sure what's going on. I have a theory, if I can take some time to pull it together. I don't know why the dupe Jamie that was in the secret lab is falling apart. Do duplicates have a set time limit they can remain separate? Because the one that became a priest was on his own long enough to get married and have a kid (sort of). Or is whatever the Mists did to Jamie Prime somehow transmitted to the duplicate, even though he was nowhere near there. Wouldn't make much sense, but that's nothing new. Lotta questions, no answers, or really even any idea which direction to start going for answers.

Rosenberg's Madrox seems to fit with Peter David's version. He doesn't feel jarringly off, at least. Kind of goofy, a little hard for the others to track what's going on with him, and he's not very good at explaining it. Which makes a certain amount of sense, considering the trouble Jamie Prime always had discerning his actual memories from those he got from absorbed duplicates.

Andy MacDonald's art is clean and straightforward, but still a mixed bag. His art reminds me a bit of Chris Samnee, but thinner lines, fewer shadows. Jamie looks really young in some of the panels, like a dumb teenager, even when it's a Jamie who has been living off baked beans in a secret lab for who knows how long. There are some very good expressions in there, though, like Hank's scowly face in the panel below, and there's one of Jamie where I think he's reacting to the presence of tomatoes in the sandwich Guido handed him. If Jamie Madrox hates tomatoes, that's one more thing I like about the character then.

The fight at the end didn't have much flow to it. Everything is happening in the same room, but it feels more like a bunch of skirmishes scattered all over the place. Especially when a Jamie is just sitting in a chair as this erupts all around him. He said it had nothing to do with him, and maybe as far as he knew it didn't, but why just keep sitting there then? Find cover or help or something. 

Mata Hari #4, by Emma Beeby (writer), Ariela Kristantina (artist), Pat Masioni (color artist), Sal Cipriano (letterer) - That is closer to her face than I would be comfortable allowing a snake that size to get.

As Monsieur Bouchardon continues to try to pull a confession from Lady McLeod, her trip through her memories continues. She's performing in that circus, but needs more money if she hopes to win custody of her daughter. But the ways she's able to best earn money also make more easy fodder for her ex-husband to proclaim her an unfit mother. With that dream closed off, she decides she might as well take advantage of the opportunity she has, use these guys that drool over her to enjoy her own life, and try to maintain her connection with her daughter as best she can. In the midst of that, the War starts, she's in Germany, and forced to leave the country. Originally bound for Holland, as her country of birth, she tries to redirect to France, only to change her mind when the Germans show much greater hostility to someone going to 'enemy territory'.

Whether she's innocent or guilty, I have to think all this duplicity about her nationality and whatnot is going to end up being a strike against her. Bouchardon knows the alleged telegrams are forgeries by a Minister desperate to get her convicted, but is still willing to use them to try and scare her into a confession. It isn't as though the military court is going to require more than the flimsiest circumstantial evidence to convict the convenient scapegoat.

Kristantina shifts how much detail and focus she puts on faces throughout the issue. At first I thought it was just being rushed, since this issue was already delayed a month, but I don't think that's it. Lady McLeod's face, both in the past and the present, maintains detail. Her present-day face shows the lines of strain, age, the unpleasant living conditions. Or the face of her coworker who gives her an idea for her performance. But the faces of the other women in the prison you ridicule and whisper about her, or the men playing out their early-20th Century version of a casting couch, their faces are more vague. The lines are thinner, almost washed out by Masioni's colors. Ultimately, the specifics of those characters don't matter. They're just more people in a long string of them who told her she had one thing worth of value to her, and then judge her for using their desire for it to make a living.

Bouchardon should probably be similar, since he clearly thinks her life choices indicate she'd be a willing and eager spy for the Germans, but he's a repeat threat, there everyday badgering her. And he becomes more real not just because she can't get away from him, to a new place with new people, but because she still has hope she can convince him of her innocence, whether true or not, and get free. That's her goal of the moment, and there are no other options available. It's Bouchardon or it's nobody.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Ghost in the Shell Arise

Netflix has three of the four Ghost in the Shell Arise films right now, which were hour-long animated films released across 2013-2014. They cover a stretch of time as Major Kusanagi tries to get out of the military and create a career and life for herself, as a freelance cybersecurity expert/troubleshooter. The shooter part is literal, since the cases she faces all end up requiring some amount of gunfire.

I'm only familiar with Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, which was an earlier TV series set later in her life (after her team had been fully formed and had consistent funding from Section 9). So this Major is a bit of a change. She's less experienced, more guarded, quicker to anger, less comfortable in her prosthetic body - her boyfriend in third film, Ghost Tears, says that when they met, she couldn't decide whether to thing of her body as a person or a thing - and still trying to figure out who she's going to be.

Each movie involves a mystery, or two mysteries that end up connecting. One typically involving a death, and the other the theft of something. Weapons or information, typically. The world seems to be in a chaotic state from which their country is still trying to recover (it's remarked they were one of the biggest losers of the war). Of course, the war is still going on in other places, it's simply that any country that was able to peace out has officially done it already.

If, like me, you had any concerns about a world where everyone can just plug their brains into information systems, this is not a movie to assuage your fears. People's brains get hacked all the time. Sometimes it makes them either see something that isn't there, or not perceive something that is. There's a recurring virus that creates false memories. People receive artificial limbs that are, unknown to them, actually bombs. The Major is told in the first movie that, since her prosthetic body was paid for by the military, she's essentially property and can't leave the base without requesting permission first. There's prejudice, mostly likely going both ways, although we see it mostly from the Major and her team towards Togusa, a detective who has no prosthetic parts. They mock his flesh eyes on a couple of occasions (although to be fair to the Major, when she does so, she's really just pissed because he's said he suspects her boyfriend is mixed up in something crooked.)

One bit I thought dead-on was we see that more and more wealthy elderly people are getting fully prosthetic new bodies, young bodies, to enjoy more active and energetic lives. And since people with prosthetic bodies have specialized dietary requirements, now there's a lot of progress being made on new, more high-class foods suitable for them. When it was mostly just soldiers, no one was gonna bother with anything more than beer and fish sausage, but the old rich folks got involved and now there's money to be made.

I think they use CGI for a lot of the sequences where the Major's on her motorcycle, and it doesn't look great.Not terrible, but it's noticeably different from the rest of the film, which is jarring. Throws me out of it for an instant. Otherwise, the animation seems pretty good. The fight sequences are mostly brief, but they're usually well done. They do this one bit where one character will do a jump or a flip to get behind another and as they're dropping into their landing, it slows down. So the viewer can see what's coming, anticipate the next move, but it's a nifty effect. It's almost like the Major's legs are so powerful gravity can't catch up, so it doesn't pull her back down like it should.

Of the three films, Ghost Tears was probably my favorite. By that point, all the characters I was familiar with are involved, even if they aren't all officially working together. The mystery in the second film, Ghost Whisper, might have been the strongest. The other two relied on a couple of "surprises" related to the Major that they telegraphed too much. Ghost Whisper also probably had the Major Kusanagi that was closest to the more experienced, pragmatic one I was used to.